When I was a graduate student in political science, one of the professors I used to TA for would often talk about how presidents would assign blue ribbon panels as ways to either kill potentially unpopular solutions to problems or give themselves political cover. We can call this paralysis by analysis.
The reality is that we are already paralyzed, for the most part, in Davis on the housing front, and therefore having a plan might give us a way forward.
The editorial in yesterday’s Enterprise notes: “Conditions in the housing market can’t continue as they are… With the long-running plans for the Sterling Apartments project headed for a hearing before the Davis City Council on Tuesday, we get our latest reminder of how dysfunctional urban planning in Davis has become.”
The editorial notes that Measure R “[m]akes building on the periphery of town effectively impossible” but, at the same time, it argues that “while Davis voters say they favor densification (‘build up, not out’), any proposal to do so immediately runs into local opposition.”
To be honest, I’m sure the Enterprise is correct on the latter point. I’ve seen arguments from those more supportive of growth that if you aren’t willing to build out, you have to build up. But I’ve seen no poll or citizen-based statement supportive of higher density infill.
Certainly, when it comes to a site-by-site basis, the Enterprise is accurate to say: “Whether it’s Sterling, new UC Davis dorms on Russell Fields or the 27-unit Trackside Center proposal at the edge of downtown, neighbors will band together to prevent the character of the neighborhood from being altered.”
The Enterprise notes, “After back-and-forth negotiations with the developers — Houston-based Dinerstein Companies — the park’s board has dropped its opposition, even as individual residents continue to fight.”
Much as we did, the Enterprise notes, “And while the negotiations were productive, they highlight the obstacles any development faces in an environment where projects go not where they make the most sense, but wherever a suitable parcel happens to become available. Sterling would have made more sense closer to campus, but where is there a likely 6-acre site?”
The Enterprise unfortunately is stepping on its message. We have pulled out the stats a few times, but, from a practical standpoint, a project within two miles of campus is actually close enough. The students do not drive to campus (only 11 percent will drive from that distance) compared with 55 percent who will bike and 30 percent who will take the bus.
The Enterprise continues oversimplifying the issue here: “While we all bemoan the 0.2-percent apartment vacancy rate that results, and the accompanying cramming of UCD students into residential neighborhoods, when push comes to shove we vote instead to protect our property values.”
I’m not convinced that property values are the driver and, while many do bemoan the two former points, they have a solution – push development to campus.
Where I fully agree with the Enterprise here: “To be sure, Measure R also hamstrings the city’s planning efforts. It’s certainly not conducive to any sort of overall vision when hundreds of staff hours of work go up in smoke on Election Day, but that doesn’t mean the City Council can’t show leadership on the issue.
“Instead of dealing piecemeal with each project as it comes along — leapfrogging across the city map from parcel to parcel — the city could use a comprehensive housing plan that, with citizen input, will channel densification into the areas best able to absorb it.
“And while it’s all well and good to insist that UCD house more of its own students, the city has to deal with the demographic pressures as they are. More students are coming. More Davis residents are growing up and being shut out of the housing market.
“If things continue as they are — without finding a way to accommodate the people who want to live, work and study here — Davis will lose the vibrant, small-town character that anti-growth folks say they are trying to protect.”
Unfortunately we don’t even know how many housing units we need. A simple plan would be deciding how many we need and where the available places are to put them. Leadership from the council is missing on this issue.
Yes, I agree with Robb Davis when he argues that we do not have a command economy and that the council can only approve projects that come before them, but I think we expect something more from the council than passive approval – we need leadership, we need them to get in front on this issue, even if it means risking failure.
Mary Jo Bryan, an opponent of Sterling, makes a similar point.
She writes in a letter, “Many community members, including me, are concerned that our city leaders do not currently have a clearly articulated strategy for addressing the community’s housing needs. The low apartment vacancy rate and the pressure to meet student needs places unrelenting pressure and urgency on our city and staff.”
She notes, “Planning is even more critical when land and economic resources are extremely limited.”
Right now, she argues, we are doing piecemeal planning.
She writes, “We have always been a community of citizen participation. We spend valuable time attending City Council and commission meetings. We read reports, speak at the meetings, and write commentaries and letters to the editor. However, our outdated General Plan frustrates our resolve and efforts.”
“I am not a ‘no growth’ advocate. I believe in smart growth, good planning and community participation,” she writes.
No, Ms. Bryan goes further than I would when she writes, “I don’t see this happening now, and I am willing to take a stand. I would support a moratorium on future housing projects until the city has a formal policy that satisfies the housing needs for our community.”
As several have pointed out here, we have 0.2 percent vacancy rate and we need to resolve that. Having a multi-year planning process is not what I have in mind. But I agree with both the Enterprise and Mary Jo Bryan, we need a housing plan, we need to creatively figure out what we need and how to provide that.
Her bottom line: “We cannot stop growth, but we can collectively use our creative talents to come up with strategies and an intelligent plan that will shape the growth of Davis for the future, and at the same time maintain Davis’ uniqueness and quality of life.”
My bottom line is this: There is a reason we can’t stop growth and that is that the students who come to the university need a place to live, and unless we want this to become a bifurcated community with retired people and students, we need to figure out ways to plan for working family housing as well.
What we are doing is not working. So why are we trying more of the same and hoping that something gives?
—David M. Greenwald reporting